Suddenly I’m invisible and Kenji is screaming at me about Juliette and I don’t know what’s happening but I’m freaking out and I know now’s not the time to ask questions. We fight our way back to the front and jet toward the road, Kenji’s panicked voice telling me he saw Juliette go down and get dragged away, and that’s all I need to hear. I’m one part furious and one part terrified, and the two are having a battle of their own in my mind.
I knew this would happen.
I knew she never should’ve come with us. I knew she should’ve stayed behind. She’s not built for this—she’s not strong enough to be on the battlefield. She would’ve been so much safer if she’d stayed behind. Why does no one ever listen to me?
I want to scream.
When we reach the road, Kenji pulls me back, and though we’re out of breath and barely able to speak, we catch a glimpse of Juliette as she’s loaded into the back of a tank, her body limp and heavy as they drag her inside.
It’s over in a matter of seconds. They’re already driving away.
Juliette is gone.
My chest cracks open.
Kenji has a firm hand on my shoulder and I realize I’m saying “Oh God, oh God” over and over again when Kenji has the decency to shake some sense into me.
“Get your shit together,” he says. “We need to go after her!”
My legs are unsteady, but I know he’s right. “Where do you think they went?”
“They’re probably carting her back to base—”
“Dammit. Of course! Warner—”
“Wants her back.” Kenji nods. “That was probably his team he sent to collect her.” He swears under his breath. “Only good thing about that is we know he doesn’t want her dead.”
I grit my teeth to keep from losing my mind. “All right then; let’s go.”
God, I can’t wait to get my hands on that psychopath. I’m going to enjoy killing him. Slowly. Carefully. Cutting him to pieces one finger at a time.
But Kenji hesitates, and I stare at him.
“What?” I ask.
“I can’t project, bro. My energy is shot.” He sighs. “I’m sorry. My body is seriously jacked up right now.”
Shit. “Contingency plan?”
“We can avoid the main roads,” he says. “Take the back route and head to base on our own. It’d be easier to track the tank, but if we do, you’ll be in plain sight. It’s your call.”
I frown. “Yeah, I vote for the plan that doesn’t get me killed instantly.”
Kenji grins. “Okay then. Let’s go get our girl back.”
“My girl,” I correct him. “She’s my girl.”
Kenji snorts as we head in the direction of the compounds. “Right. Minus the part where she’s not actually your girl. Not anymore.”
It takes us a while to get back to base, because we have to be hyperaware of my visibility. We’re slower, more cautious, and careful to take our time hiding inside and around abandoned units every hundred yards or so, just to make sure the coast is clear around every corner. But when we’re finally approaching base, shit kicks into high gear.
We weren’t the only ones taking the back route.
Castle, Ian, Alia, and Lily flipped out when they saw us; they were hiding inside a unit we thought for sure was empty. They jumped out at us from behind a bed, which made me nearly piss my pants. We only had a moment to explain what had happened before Castle was sharing his own story.
They got Brendan and Winston back—broke them out of Sector 45 just as they’d originally planned—but the two of them were in bad shape when Castle found them.
“We think they’ll be okay,” Castle is saying, “but we have to get them to the girls as soon as possible. I’m hoping they’ll be able to help.”
“The girls are on the battlefield,” Kenji says, eyes wide. “I have no idea where. They insisted on fighting today.”
Castle’s face falls, and though he doesn’t say it out loud, it’s clear he’s suddenly very worried.
“Where are they now?” I ask. “Brendan and Winston?”
“Hiding,” Castle says.
“What?” Kenji looks around. “Why? Why aren’t you taking them back to Point?”
Castle goes pale.
It’s Lily who speaks. “We heard whispers while we were on base breaking them out,” she says. “Whispers of what the soldiers are going to do next.”
“They’re mobilizing for an air assault,” Ian cuts in. “We just heard they’re going to bomb Omega Point. We were still trying to figure out what we should do when we heard someone coming, and jumped in here”—he nods around the unit—“to hide.”
“What?” Kenji panics. “But—how do you—”
“It’s definite,” Castle says. His eyes are deep and tortured. Terrified. “I heard the orders myself. They’re hoping that if they hit it with enough firepower, everything underground will just collapse in on itself.”
“But sir, no one knows the exact location of Omega Point, it’s not possible—”
“It is,” Alia says. I’ve never heard her speak before, and I’m surprised by the softness of her voice. “They tortured the information out of some of our own.”
“On the battlefield,” Ian says. “Just before killing them.”
Kenji looks like he might throw up. “We have to go right now,” he says, his voice high and sharp. “We have to get everyone out of there—all the ones we left behind—”
Only then does it hit me.
I don’t recognize my own voice. The horror, the panic, the dread that floods my body is something I’ve never felt—never known before. Not like this. “We have to get James!” I’m shouting, and Kenji is trying to calm me down, but this time I can’t listen. I don’t care if I have to go alone; I’m getting my brother out of there. “Let’s go!” I bark at Kenji. “We have to get a tank and get back to base as soon as possible—”
“But what about Juliette?” Kenji asks. “Maybe we can split up—I can head back to Point with Castle and Alia; you can stay here with Ian and Lily—”
“No. I have to get James. I have to be there. I have to be the one to get him—”
“You said yourself that Warner isn’t going to kill her—she’ll be okay there for a little while. But right now they’re going to blow up Omega Point, and James—and everyone else—is going to die. We have to go now—”
“Maybe I can stay here and look for Juliette, and you guys can go—”
“Juliette will be fine. She’s not in any immediate danger here—Warner isn’t going to hurt her—”
“Kenji, please!” I’m desperate now and I don’t care. “We need as many people at Omega Point as possible. There are tons of people left behind, and they don’t stand a chance if we don’t get to them now.”
Kenji stares at me for just a moment longer before he nods. “You guys go grab Brendan and Winston,” he says to Castle and the three others. “Kent and I will commandeer a tank and meet you back here. We’ll do everything we can to get back to Point as soon as possible.”
The second everyone is gone, I grab Kenji by the arm. “If anything happens to James—”
“We’re going to do everything we can, I promise—”
“That’s not good enough for me—I need to go get him—I need to go right now—”
“You can’t go right now,” Kenji snaps. “Save your stupid for later, Kent. Now, more than ever, you need to stay in control. If you go crazy and head back to Point on foot with no regard for your own safety, you’ll be dead before you even get there, and any chance of saving James will be lost. You want to keep your little brother alive? Make sure you don’t kill yourself while you’re trying to save him.”
I feel like my throat is closing up. “He can’t die,” I say, my voice breaking. “I can’t be the reason he dies, Kenji—I can’t. . . .”
Kenji blinks fast, forcing back his own emotion. “I know, man. But I can’t think like that right now. We have to keep moving. . . .”
Kenji is still talking, but I can hardly hear him.
What have I done.
I have no idea how we all fit inside this tank. We’re eight people jammed into cramped quarters, sitting on laps, and no one even cares. The tension is so thick it’s practically its own person, taking up a seat we don’t have to spare. I can barely think straight.
I’m trying to breathe, trying to stay calm, and I can’t.
The planes are already overhead, and I feel sick in a way I don’t know how to explain. It’s deeper than my stomach. Bigger than my heart. More overwhelming than just my mind. It’s like fear has become me; it wears my body like an old suit.
Fear is all I have left now.
I think we all feel it. Kenji is driving this tank, somehow still able to function in the face of all this, but no one else is moving. Not speaking. Not even breathing too loudly.
I feel so sick.
Oh God, oh God.
Drive faster, I want to say, but then, actually, I don’t. I don’t know if I want to hurry up or slow down. I don’t know what will hurt more. I watched my own mother die, and, somehow, it didn’t hurt as much as this.
I throw up then.
All over the floor mats.
The dead body of my ten-year-old brother.
I’m dry-heaving, wiping my mouth on my shirt.
Will it hurt when he dies? Will he feel it? Will he be killed instantly, or will he be impaled—injured, somehow—and die slowly? Will he bleed to death all alone? My ten-year-old brother?
I’m holding fast to the dashboard, trying to steady my heart, my breathing. It’s impossible. The tears are falling fast now, my shoulders shaking, my body breaking. The planes get louder as they come closer. I can hear it now. We all can.
We’re not even there yet.
We hear the bombs explode far off in the distance, and that’s when I feel it: the bones inside of me fracture, little earthquakes breaking me apart.
The tank stops.
There’s no going forward anymore. There’s no one and nothing to get to, and we all know it. The bombs keep falling and I hear the explosions echoing the sounds of my own sobs, loud and gasping in the silence. I have nothing left now.
Nothing so precious as my own flesh and blood.
I’ve just dropped my head into my hands when a scream pierces the quiet.
It’s Alia, shrieking from the backseat as she throws the door open and jumps out. I follow her with my eyes and only then see what she saw, and it takes just seconds before I’m out the door and bolting past her, falling to my knees in front of the one person I never thought I’d see, not ever again.
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